Philadelphia’s February: A Tale Of Two Halves

Feb 21, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor (8) reacts to a foul call during the first half against the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers have had some significant changes to their roster over recent weeks. Following a terrible start to February, the team responded in impressive fashion.

One of the busier teams in the NBA during the recent trade deadline period was the Philadelphia 76ers. Mindful of possessing expiring contracts, Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo set about gaining some future assets in a couple of separate deals.

First, he sent forward Ersan Ilyasova to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for center Tiago Splitter and a second-round pick. Colangelo followed this up by dealing former lottery pick Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks in return for swingman Justin Anderson, center Andrew Bogut and a future protected first round pick.

Bogut has since been waived by the Sixers in order to join a contender.

In addition to these moves was the recent announcement that No.1 overall pick Ben Simmons would miss his entire rookie campaign due to his lingering foot injury.  And if that wasn’t enough, rookie sensation Joel Embiid has just been ruled out indefinitely due to persistent knee pain.

Therefore it’s a credit to head coach Brett Brown, his coaching staff and the players that they have been able to focus on the day-to-day grind of the NBA.

The Sixers played 12 games in February for a 4-8 record. After dropping their first five games, the Sixers responded by winning four of their remaining seven.

Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Horrible Start

The Sixers began February with an 18-29 record and just 2.5 games out of the eighth place in the Eastern Conference. But their faint playoff hopes were quickly dashed after a terrible start to the month. The Sixers lost their first five games of February by an average of 16.4 points per game.

Here’s a basic snapshot of how the numbers fared for the Sixers during this span:

  • Points per game (PPG): 96.4 (Ranked 29th)
  • Field-goal percentage (FG%): 40.7 (29th)
  • Three-point percentage (3P%): 29.5 (27th)
  • Rebounds per game (RPG): 38.8 (27th)
  • Assists per game (APG): 20.8 (22nd)
  • Offensive rating (ORTG): 95.0 (29th)
  • Defensive rating (DRTG): 113.3 (26th)
  • PACE: 100.5 (11th)

It’s safe to say these are some pretty bleak numbers. Over the five games, the Sixers were outscored overall by 56 points in the second halves of games.

So naturally, these team failures bring with it some below average individual performances.

Here are the numbers of the some key performers that played significant minutes:

Robert Covington
12.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 33.3 FG%, 33.3 3P%, 33.3 minutes per game (MPG)

Dario Saric
12.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 38.3 FG%, 27.2 MPG

Nik Stauskas
8.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 30.2 FG%, 28.0 3P%, 32.6 MPG

Jahlil Okafor
15.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 46.9 FG%, 25 MPG

Keep in mind this does not the include the since departed Ilyasova and Noel. Ilyasova in this period was second on the team in both points and rebounds.

Covington’s numbers to start February did nothing to endear him to the Sixers fans, who booed Covington regularly earlier this season.

That missed layup above was just one such example.

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Quick Turnaround

The ice-cold start to February, however, didn’t last long. Despite all the distractions surrounding the team, the Sixers ability to turn this around so quickly has been a credit to all involved.

Here’s a basic overview of how their

  • Points per game (PPG): 111.3 (Ranked 7th)
  • Field-goal percentage (FG%): 45.6 (17th)
  • Three-point percentage (3P%): 31.8 (29th)
  •  Rebounds per game (RPG): 45.7 (8th)
  • Assists per game (APG): 24.3 (10th)
  • Offensive rating (ORTG): 105.0 (17th)
  • Defensive rating (DRTG): 103.5 (9th)
  • PACE: 106.6 (1st)

Of course these represent a dramatic improvement in a number of categories. The two areas that jump off the page are the increase in points per game and pace.

The noticeable increase in pace (the number of possessions per 48 minutes) for the Sixers has naturally led to more scoring opportunities. The team averaged 14.9 points per game more than during the initial five games.

Furthermore, their pace increase was so pronounced that they even surpassed the high octane offense of the Houston Rockets, who led the league in scoring during this period. As head coach Brett Brown noted recently:

“Our pace has been excellent. I’m proud of the improved pace. I hope that when you have a coach and a sports science program that comes in from Day 1, and we’ve talked about this, where we said, ‘You’re going to be in the best shape of your life, you’re going to be in career-best fitness.’

“The quick sentence after that is the reward is we’re going to run. You can’t say then that we’re going to walk it up the floor. That’s not who we are. Our pace has been relentless lately. We’re proud of our pace.”

Below is a snapshot of how some of the Sixers’ key players performed during the back end of February:

Robert Covington
17.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 45.8 FG%, 40.4 3P%, 34.1 MPG

Dario Saric
20.4 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 47.4 FG%, 32.2 MPG

Nik Stauskas
11.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 45.5 FG%, 44.4 3P%, 26.0 MPG

Jahlil Okafor
10.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 51.2 FG%, 21.4 MPG

The sharp rise in production of Saric and Covington is most encouraging. The departure of Ilyasova is going to see even more opportunities afforded to Saric, and his recent play suggests this to be a wise move.

And after a terrible start to his season overall (7.4 PPG on 26.2 percent shooting from the field), Covington has seen his production and confidence rise steadily as the season has progressed.

And with the continued absence of Embiid, Saric’s recently play has certainly propelled him into the discussion for the league’s rookie of the year. In particular, Saric’s consistency since being given increased responsibility has been most impressive for a first-year player.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Run Home

Following the month of February, the Sixers were 22-37 and 6.5 games out of eighth place. Therefore with just 23 games remaining, the playoffs are essentially out of reach.

The remainder of the season is simply going to be viewed as a learning tool for the players that head coach Brown has at his disposal.

Second-year forward/center Jahlil Okafor can use this time to either prove to Philadelphia that he’s in their long-term plans, or audition himself to other prospective teams in the league.

Saric can also use the absence of Embiid and the recent departure of Ilyasova to further develop his game and enhance his reputation whilst his confidence is high.

One surprise packet during the Sixers’ recent recovery has been the play of second-year big man Richaun Holmes. Over the last seven games of the month, Holmes contributed 8.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 21.1 minutes per game.

The former second-round pick of the Sixers now has a terrific opportunity to establish his spot in the rotation for this season and beyond.

With just $48 million in salary committed from next season, there should be no shortage of motivation for this playing group to prove that they are a firm part of the Sixers’ strategy moving forward.

Head coach Brown made his intentions clear recently that he will be just as motivated as the players moving forward:

“What’s it take to win a championship? That’s all I think about. What’s it really take? How do you beat that team four times? What’s it really take? What’s the future of our game? What’s it look like in 2020, 2025?…… How do you get to that level? Who do we have we think that can play in that game? What do you feel like you need to draft and grow? What do you need to go purchase — free agent.’ All that. That’s all you think about.”

If nothing else, these comments from Brown indicate that the Sixers certainly have placed their future in the hands of a highly motivated and well-intentioned coach.

Therefore if Embiid and Simmons can get healthy, and Colangelo and his team can match Brown’s level of passion and ambition, the Sixers’ future is awfully bright.

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